Capital murder trial begins for murder and rape of Fresno teen

August 5, 2013 2:58:04 PM PDT
A twice convicted rapist is on trial for murder and a third rape in Fresno County's first death penalty case in five years.

56-year-old Eddie Nealy is accused of murdering a teenager in 1985, but it was two decades before any evidence pointed to him as a suspect. We should warn you: Some of the details from this trial are disturbing.

In 1985, investigators saved DNA evidence found on the body of 14-year-old Jody Wolfe. Twenty years later, lab technicians discovered the connection to Eddie Nealy. Prosecutors say it is the strongest proof of who killed Wolfe, but Nealy's attorney says it proves nothing.

Police found a pair of girl's jeans, a black shirt, and a set of shoes belonging to Jody Wolfe along the bank of the Fresno canal where her body washed up in 1985.

Nearby, police thought shoe prints and an axe handle may be clues to the struggle that killed her. But they led nowhere, and the case went cold for 20 years. By the time DNA technology matured and evidence taken from Wolfe connected her to a convicted rapist, the lead detective in the case had retired.

But the evidence he collected led prosecutors to charge Eddie Nealy with her murder. "She was raped," said prosecutor Steven Wright. "She was murdered. Her body was dumped into the canal. The person that raped her left his sperm inside of her and that sperm belongs to the defendant."

The pathologist who examined Wolfe's body has also left Fresno, but he returned Monday for Nealy's trial. Dr. Gerald Dalgleish says he could tell she'd been hit over the head several times, but he couldn't figure out by what.

Nealy's defense attorney says that's just part of what's missing in the case. Nealy has been convicted of two 1990 rapes and was accused of another murder in 1991, but Eeric Green says that proves nothing about the death of Jody Wolfe.

"You're not going to have any evidence whatsoever that Mr. Nealy is at the scene where all this supposedly takes place, no physical evidence at all," Green said.

The trial is expected to last as long as six weeks, but it could go a lot quicker. If Nealy is found guilty of the murder, jurors will have to listen to evidence all over again so they can decide whether he deserves the death penalty.

That hasn't happened in Fresno County since Marcus Wesson in 2005. The last person to stand trial with the death penalty hanging over his head was Ramadan Abdullah in 2008. He was later sentenced to life for killing a Fresno County sheriff's deputy.


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